Main News April 2nd 2013

Better baggage routing at Lester Pearson

Air Canada is becoming an attractive option for travelers connecting to the US, thanks to a simplified baggage handling process at its Toronto Lester B Pearson International airport hub. The new system sends checked baggage to connecting flights, so that connecting customers no longer have to retrieve their checked bags for US customs’ inspection.

“Air Canada’s Toronto Pearson hub is already recognized as a North American gateway and this simplified baggage process makes it even more attractive. It strengthens Toronto’s position as a preferred routing by making transit through Pearson easier for customers who are increasingly choosing to travel our international network because it offers some of the best elapsed travel times between the US and other global centres in Europe and Asia,” commented Ben Smith, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Air Canada.

 

Sequestration starts to bite

The US Federal Aviation Administration has decided to close one third of its air traffic control towers that are located at smaller airports. This will come into effect on April 7.

In all, just under 150 towers will be affected, involving 46 states. These towers are part of FAA’s contract tower program that hires third-party controller staff to manage towers at small airports.

Immune will be 24 federal contract towers that had previously been proposed for closure; further, 16 towers under a cost share program will also continue to operate through congressional statute funding.

The US Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, admitted that the agency had heard from communities across the country, stressing the importance of their towers, but nonetheless, closure decisions had had to be made.

 

Profits take a tumble at LatAm

LatAm Airlines’ net profit dipped by 96.6% in 2012 to US$10.96m, says a company report. This was in large part due to the cost of LAN’s takeover of Brazil’s TAM airline, coupled with higher taxes in Chile.

That said, Latin America’s principal carrier revealed that it had seen a significant improvement in its major market, Brazil, this year; however, it would still cut its planned capital expenditure for the 2013-2015 fleet by a total of US$1.2bn. Simply put, the group is in the process of adjusting its fleet plan in order to match its capacity expansion plans. The company said that it would continue to evaluate alternatives in order to rationalize its fleet orders.

The group revealed that fleet investment would total US$2.047bn this year, US$1.993bn in 2014 and US$806m in 2015: cost of its future aircraft would be partly assisted through debt issues. Total merger synergies should reach between US$600m and US$700m, and will be fully achieved by June 2016, LatAm said.

 

Have knife, will travel…

The TSA has modified its list of prohibited items that can be carried on aircraft on an overall risk-based security approach: this comes into effect on April 25. The modified rule will allow passengers to carry small pocket knives with non-locking blades smaller than 2.36 inches and less than 1/2 inch in width. Passengers will also be allowed to carry small and toy bats, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, billiard cues and two golf clubs. However, the list does not allow razor blades and box cutters, full-size baseball, softball or cricket bats.

TSA spokesman David Castelveter said that the decision was made in order to bring US regulations more into line with ICAO standards, and that it would also assist in offering an improved passenger experience.

“This is part of an overall risk-based security approach, which allows transportation security officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher threat items such as explosives,” he explained.

The US Flight Attendants Union Coalition has expressed its dismay at the decision and,amongst others, US Airways’ CEO Doug Parker has asked the Transportation Security Administration to reconsider its decision to allow such implements past airport security.

 

Boeing to trim its workforce – but will add staff

Boeing has said that it has plans to lay off about 800 machinists this year as it reduces its workforce on its B747 and B787 aircraft. The reductions are part of a long term plan but do not necessarily signal changes in production rates for either model.

Interestingly, Boeing is doubling its output of the B787, even though the model is currently grounded and cannot be delivered to customers. By the end of 2013 it aims to produce ten a month.

The eliminated positions are the only layoffs the Chicago-based company plans as it trims its workforce by 2,000 this year in the Puget Sound region. The remainder of the reductions will be through attrition and redeployment, the company says. These layoffs will mainly affect machinists involved in change incorporation work, or those reworking aircraft that have left the factory for the B787 and B747 programs.

On the plus side, Boeing is looking to take on 8,000 to 10,000 workers this year across the company.

 

 

 

Main News March 16 2013


PRM case to be reviewed

An appeals court has revived a lawsuit against United Airlines.

The case was brought by a woman who claimed that she was not promptly provided with a wheelchair in an airport when she requested one. The opinion, from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, said that federal law did not pre-empt the woman’s personal injury claims under state law.

In an e-mail, a United spokeswoman said that the airline was strongly committed to providing equal treatment and quality service to its disabled customers.

Mark Meuser, an attorney for plaintiff Michelle Gilstrap, who has difficulty walking, said that some lower court judges had disagreed about whether individuals should be able to bring claims for damages suffered within an airport or on board an aircraft.

“This is a really big deal for disabled Americans across the country,” commented Mark Meuser.

Michelle Gilstrap experiences difficulty in walking because of a collapsed disc in her back and osteoarthritis. On two separate aircraft trips (in 2008 and 2009) she alleged that United failed to supply a wheelchair on some occasions. She has added that United agents apparently yelled at her, and expressed doubt over whether she really needed a wheelchair. Further, they ordered her to stand in a line, an action that was impossible because of her medical condition.

Michelle Gilstrap duly sued the carrier but a Los Angeles federal judge dismissed her case. In the above-mentioned ruling, the 9th Circuit said that Michelle Gilstrap could not pursue her claims under the Americans for Disabilities Act.

However, the court ruled that her state law claims, including emotional distress and negligence, were not pre-empted by the Air Carrier Access Act. The appeals court remanded the case for further proceedings.


Triple award for ASIG

ASIG has announced that three of its US airport refueling operations have received 2012 performance awards from Southwest Airlines. ASIG performs aircraft refueling and other airside handling services on behalf of Southwest Airlines at 20 airports across the US. Award metrics center on on-time performance, quality assurance and customer service (ie fuel accounting). Refueling operations are further classified by the number of flights handled, ranging from under 10,000 to more than 40,000 flights a year.

ASIG’s Sea-Tac International airport operation was named Fueler of the Year, Level 3 Operations (10,000 to 20,000 flights in a calendar year). ASIG’s Nashville International operation was named Most Improved Station and Super Fueler for Level 2 Operations (20,000 to 40,000 flights in a calendar year). A Super Fueler is an operation that has less than one flight delay per 5,000 flights fueled. Finally, ASIG’s Las Vegas refueling operation at McCarran International was also named Most Improved Station and Superior Performance for Level 1 Operations (over 40,000 flights a year).

Better baggage options for customers

United Airlines has expanded its new baggage delivery option, thereby enabling customers to circumvent baggage claims upon their arrival at the arrival airport and have their checked bags delivered directly to their final destinations, which can be up to 100 miles away.

Baggage Delivery by BagsVIP is now available to customers departing from any domestic airport and arriving in 36 cities. The airline says that it has plans to expand the service to more than 190 domestic airports in the fullness of time.

 


Alaska shares its success with workforce

Alaska Air Group has paid annual bonuses totaling almost a month’s pay to nearly 13,000 employees for exceeding the company’s 2012 operational and financial goals. The bonus, which is about 8% of annual pay, is in addition to the US$1,100 in bonuses, on average, that each employee earned last year for achieving monthly on-time and customer satisfaction targets. The combined monthly and annual bonuses amounted to nearly US$88m in all.

“We’re pleased to share the company’s financial success with our amazing employees at Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air,” Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement. “Their teamwork and dedication to our customers are at the heart of our success. On behalf of the leadership team, I want to thank and congratulate our people for their outstanding efforts.”

FlightStats.com recently ranked Alaska Airlines the top, on-time major airline in North America for the third year in a row and JD Power and Associates has named the carrier as garnering highest levels of customer satisfaction amongst traditional network carriers for the fifth consecutive year in 2012.

More than US$42m in annual bonuses (62.4% of the total) is being paid to some 6,700 Alaska and Horizon employees in Washington state, with a further US$9m going to nearly 2,000 employees in the Portland, Oregon area. Around US$6.5m is to be paid to 1,580 workers in the state of Alaska while US$6.2m will be paid to some 1,470 employees working in California.

 


 

Main News February 28 2013


Profitability passed on to employees

Earlier this month, Delta Air Lines paid out around US$372m in profit sharing in recognition of its employees and their rôle in achieving financial and operational goals in 2012. Delta says that employees’ individual payouts will be equivalent to 6.67% of their eligible 2012 earnings.

“This year’s profit sharing payment is a reflection of the hard work and dedication Delta people have shown in delivering what our customers have come to expect – great operations and service,” stressed Delta’s CEO, Richard Anderson. “Profit sharing is not only a demonstration of appreciation for employees’ hard work in 2012, it’s an investment in improving our customer experience on Delta now and in the future.”


Government economies could impact US air travel

With the ongoing belt-tightening in the US has come the unwelcome news that up to US$1bn in spending cuts could be sought at the Transportation Department – and of this total, more than US$600m would be trimmed from the Federal Aviation Administration, the body that oversees US air travel.

On the cards could be cuts in the working week as well as the closure of air traffic control facilities in regions where flights are fewer: up to 100 might be involved in the cutbacks, it has been suggested.

The Regional Airline Association has expressed its fears over the proposals that would almost certainly lead to delays in journey times for passengers. Since the regional carriers account for around 50% of the total scheduled passenger traffic, it foresees some communities losing their only lifeline and others operating with a reduced schedule.

Searches giving cause for concern in Kansas

Some Kansas House members have voiced disapproval over pat-downs at the state’s airports, saying that the searches are getting out of hand. A bill sponsored by 21 House members would declare it illegal for Transportation Security Administration screeners to touch an airline passenger’s private parts during a search. The bill would also seek to prevent an agent from taking a child under the age of 18 away from a parent or a guardian for the purposes of conducting a further search. Kansas is joining other states in objecting to what is considered aggressive searches of people who are unlikely to be potential security threats.

 


Swissport brings job boost to Newark Liberty

The Christie Administration has launched an initiative with handler Swissport USA aimed at the employment of around 1,000 New Jersey residents for posts at Newark Liberty International airport. This is in line with the latter company opening a new cargo and baggage handling operation this spring.

Swissport USA has asked the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development to help fill the positions, giving priority consideration to people displaced by Superstorm Sandy and New Jersey’s long-term unemployed, particularly those who have been involved in clearing up after the storm.

“Swissport USA is eager to get its cargo operation up and running, so our department has moved quickly, by lining up potential hires from people withrésumés in our Jobs4Jersey.com search engine, people who joined our Jersey Job Clubs, our Talent Networks and our veteran outreach services,” explained LWD’s Commissioner, Harold J Wirths.

The available positions range from warehouse agents and cargo office agents to supervisors: prospective applicants will be expected to possess a valid driver’s license, an education certificate, a clean record and a steady work history.

“We are happy to partner with the New Jersey Department of Labor to help us find qualified individuals to staff our operations at Newark airport,” commented Gregory Reeves, Swissport USA’s Senior Vice President Human Resources.

In all, Swissport USA has been given 60 days to staff its Newark Liberty airport operation, and candidates accepted into the company’s training programs will receive pay while awaiting Federal Aviation Administration certification and background checks. Swissport USA has said that it intends to offer any staff hired the flexibility of working at two other facilities, namely at LaGuardia and JFK.

 


JetBlue enhances the check-in process

JetBlue Airways has made traveling even easier with the introduction of a mobile boarding system. Customers in eight of the airline’s largest cities are now able to download electronic boarding passes on to their cell phones using the newly re-launched version 2.0 of the JetBlue mobile app. This translates into a saving in both time and paperwork during check-in, security and the boarding process proper. Mobile Boarding Passes are now available for those traveling from Boston, Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, San Juan, San Francisco, Orlando and New York.


Miami setting the pace in cargo

The aviation department at Miami International airport has set a new record of just over 2m short tonnes of cargo handled, which surpasses its 2007 record by more than 15,000 short tonnes. This represents an increase of 4.6%.

While the total domestic cargo tonnage for 2012 exceeded 2011’s tonnage by almost 14.5%, it fell short by about 10% when compared with 2007 figures. The airport’s total international cargo tonnage for 2012 set a new record, surpassing the tonnages of both 2011 and 2007.



 

Main News February 15 2013


Outsourcing at Frontier confirmed

Frontier Airlines has revealed that the jobs of around 700 of its employees are to be outsourced and that this will affect all of its destinations, save Denver International.

Currently some 60% of Frontier’s stations are staffed by employees from other companies. This latest announcement will have an impact on gate, ticket counter and ramp staff at 28 locations.

“We need to take every reasonable measure to ensure the future stability and viability of our company and to keep our costs low for our customers,” the airline’s spokesperson, Kate O’Malley, said in a statement. The outsourcing initiative is not expected to compromise customer service, and the replacement employees will receive the same Frontier training as current employees. Frontier has said that it will also work with other companies to help their employees apply for jobs with a new employer.

Having been through the bankruptcy process and relocated its headquarters from Indianapolis, the carrier has been looking hard at means whereby it can gain a competitive edge.


Load factors show promise for 2013

WestJet Airlines has revealed that its January load factor was a record 80.9%, which was slightly better than the comparable 2012 figure of 79.9%.

Traffic, as measured by revenue passenger miles, climbed by 7.7% year over year, while capacity, in available seat miles, was up 6.4% on the previous year.

The January load factor was the seventh consecutive monthly record for WestJet.

Similarly, Air Canada reported higher monthly passenger levels for January, as demand for air travel remained strong in the wake of the holiday season. Air Canada said that its load factor rose to 79.4%, again a record for January: this compares with 79.1% that was posted a year earlier.

On time delivery is getting even better

Airlines for America, which is the industry trade organization for the leading US carriers, has said that airlines are continuing to deliver a strong on-time performance. In particular, it notes the second best November on-time results that have ever been recorded. According to the latest Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report, airlines also had the best November on record for baggage handling performance.

The DOT Report records that 85.7% of flights arrived within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival time, which was second only to November 2009, which set a record of 88.6%. Encouragingly, these results are up from November 2011, which posted an on-time arrival rate of 85.3%. In addition, 99.7% of all US airline passengers had their bags correctly handled, yet another encouraging result.

As an update, United Airlines has just announced that it exceeded its 80% on-time arrival domestic and international performance goals for the month of January, and that it would be rewarding its eligible employees with a US$100 on-time bonus to recognize this fact. Despite challenging weather conditions across the system, the airline ended the month with an 82.8% domestic on-time arrival rate, and an 80.5% international on-time rate, resulting in the best combined domestic and international performance figures for the month in a decade.

On-time arrival rates are based on flights arriving within 14 minutes of scheduled arrival time.

 


United invests in static assets

Last month United Airlines unveiled its new United Club lounge in Terminal 2 at Chicago O’Hare International airport.

The carrier has said that this lounge will become the first of several new lounges that it will be introducing worldwide. The 13,300 square foot facility has an expansive bar and lounge area, redesigned furniture and additional workstations and power outlets. Members will receive complimentary snacks, beverages and free wi-fi use.

United has added that it plans to spend more than US$50m this year on the renovation of several of its 51 locations. This is in addition to over US$550m that it will be investing in fleet-wide changes.

 


FAA finds simple solution to airport efficiency

The Federal Aviation Administration reports that it has boosted overall efficiency at Memphis airport by more than 15%, all through the expedient of reducing time separation between the majority of FedEx’s aircraft.

These new standards, which were initially rolled out at Memphis late last year, are set to be expanded to other airports which feature concentrations of wide-body aircraft: these include San Francisco, Louisville and Atlanta. The changes will occur over the course of the next two years, says the FAA.

In order to effect the environmentally-friendly changes, minimum spacing between departing aircraft was reduced to 2.5-3 miles; latterly, this gap was typically 4 miles. Wake turbulence is the deciding factor here, for it is important that a following aircraft is not affected by the wake of the one in front. FedEx’s fleet comprises many MD-11, B767 and A300 types and it has managed to cut an average of three minutes off the taxi-ing time by having aircraft proceed directly from the stand to the runway. This translates into a time saving of 30 seconds in the run-up to takeoff clearance. The overall gains are apparent in the areas of fuel consumption, noise levels and emissions.

Perhaps best of all is the fact that this initiative has done away with any requirement for new runway areas or other airfield development. The scheme is just one part of the FAA’s long term plan that will see it overhaul the air traffic system with a combination of new technology, equipment and procedures that is known as NextGen.

 


Looking after one’s assets

On January 18, United Airlines opened the airline’s new employee health clinic at O’Hare International. The clinic, managed by Walgreens, will serve employees’ health needs, such as urgent care for routine illness, travel and other immunizations, including ’flu shots, prepackaged medications, job-related physical training and pre-employment physical check-ups, at no cost to the employee. These, and other health care services, are now available to all United employees, including more than 10,000 co-workers around the Chicago area.

“We’re continuing to make significant investments in United, including investments in our co-workers,” confirmed Jeff Smisek, United’s Chairman, President and CEO. “This clinic will offer convenient health services at no charge to keep our co-workers feeling and performing well.”

The 5,200 square foot facility is located in the airport’s Terminal 2 arrivals area, and is the only one of its kind for any airline at O’Hare.

In brief

Horizon Air passenger service agents in Vancouver and Victoria, who are represented by the Canadian Auto Workers, have announced that they have ratified a new three-year contract. All of the agents at the airports who participated in the ratification vote approved the contract, which expires on February 14, 2016.



 

Main News January 16 2013

 

United rewards employees and offers bag option

United Airlines has awarded US$125,000 to employees across the company for excellence in customer service as part of the company’s Outperform Recognition Program: a celebration was duly staged at George Bush Intercontinental airport in Houston.

Launched in June 2012, the Outperform Recognition Program invites customers who are MileagePlus members to nominate eligible employees for service at the airport, on the phone, on a flight or at any other stage of their travel with the carrier. Employees from all work groups, including pilots, flight attendants, ramp and customer service employees, may be nominated. The airline randomly selected 16 winners from more than 9,000 customer nominations submitted during the first four months of the program running.

Separately, United Airlines has launched a new baggage delivery option, enabling customers to have their checked bags delivered directly to their final destinations, within 100 miles of their arrival airport, thereby avoiding the baggage claim process. A single bag to be delivered within a 40 mile radius will cost just under US$30; an additional charge will apply for a more distant drop-off.

Baggage delivery by BagsVIP will initially be available to customers departing from any domestic airport and arriving in Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles and Orlando. The airline plans to expand the service to more than 190 domestic airports in the coming months.

 

 

Delta and Pinnacle: a joint future

The future of Pinnacle Airlines was up in the air at the start of the new year, when it was revealed that it could exit bankruptcy as a Delta Air Lines subsidiary. Delta’s potential ownership stake in this regional airline partner was simply one of several possibilities that had been suggested within agreements that currently await US Bankruptcy Court approval.

Some weeks later, Pinnacle Airlines confirmed that it would be emerging from bankruptcy as a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, based on a new agreement struck with the regional airline’s unsecured creditor’s committee, Delta and its pilot group.

“The reorganization plan will provide for Delta or an affiliate to acquire the equity in the reorganized Pinnacle Airlines Corp. after it emerges from bankruptcy,” Pinnacle stated in a press release. Although the new agreement is still pending court approval, the plan is for it to continue to fly under its own operating certificate.

Pinnacle has until mid-February to submit a reorganization strategy to the bankruptcy court. If all goes according to plan, the bankruptcy court could rule on Pinnacle’s reorganization scheme by May.

The whole of Pinnacle’s new common stock will be issued to Delta; indeed, Delta has served as Pinnacle’s debtor-in-possession lender throughout the entire reorganization process. The carrier agreed to issue US$74.3m in financing, a decision made last May, and has agreed to seek repayment in the form of exit financing and common stock to allow Pinnacle to emerge from bankruptcy.

 

Wildlife: a cause for concern?

The event last year at Tweed New Haven Regional airport has underlined once again the dangers posed by the environment immediately surrounding an airport.

In the case of Tweed, a deer bounded across the runway, just as a Lear Jet was taking off. Fortunately, the damage was limited to the aircraft and the deer, and the Lear’s occupants survived what could have been a fatal incident. The event has prompted the airport authority to erect fencing around the airport although it points out that there is a history of it working with the US Department of Agriculture in order to reduce the threat of wildlife colliding with aircraft.

The occurrence, though, is perhaps not so uncommon.

Bradley International, for example, had recorded 570 such incidents by the end of September 2012, whilst Denver International had logged a worrying total of 4,173.

 

Moving people in Florida

Orlando International has announced plans to build a new automated people mover system and parking garage to help cope with the growing levels of passenger traffic that it has been experiencing.

The new people mover system should be in operation by 2015 and will function as the terminal point for new passenger rail services into the airport. It will connect with a new parking garage, thereby providing the airport with additional capacity until the new south terminal is built in 2017.

The airport has said that this new people mover complex would allow private rail companies like All Aboard Florida to begin a passenger service between Orlando and Miami.

Gate catering for United

Late in 2012, gategroup announced contracts totaling more than CHF430m (US$462m) in revenues over the three-year life of the agreement signed with United Airlines. This award was part of a tender that covered the majority of United’s contracts with the gategroup brand, Gate Gourmet.

Gate Gourmet renewed more than 90% of its contracted revenue on tender. The contracts include extensions in catering and provisioning service at three of United’s core connecting hubs, at Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco and Washington Dulles, as well as further volumes in San Francisco and Washington Dulles.

In addition to the three hub locations, Gate Gourmet will continue to provide services to United in the following spoke cities, for which tenders were held: Columbus, Jacksonville, New Orleans and San Antonio. The agreements took effect in January this year and will run through to December 2015.

 

Guns: is the TSA over a barrel?

The Transportation Security Administration has revealed that it discovered more than 1,500 firearms at airport checkpoints in 2012, according to a report.

Despite the fact that travelers are forbidden to carry firearms on board aircraft (although they can be checked in, provided that counter staff are informed and that the weapons are unloaded and put into a secure, robust container), the 2012 figures exceed those of 2011, when just over 1,300 weapons were discovered.

The TSA spokesperson said that he assumed the vast majority were seized because people were unaware of the rules – a statement which seems to border on the naïve, given the high profile attached to guns in the wake of recent killing sprees in the US.

For the record, Atlanta came out with the worst statistics, with the number of guns found totaling 80 in all. Close behind in second place was Dallas.

 

Main News January 1st 2013

 

 

Dispatchers join up

The flight dispatchers at Allegiant Air have voted to join Teamsters Local 986, the Teamsters Airline Division has announced. The flight dispatchers at Allegiant, a subsidiary of Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Company, are joining approximately 350 Allegiant pilots who voted to join the Teamsters back in August 2012.

In explaining the decision, dispatchers have said that they are looking for fair treatment, a strong voice relating to their work and the security of a Teamster contract.

 

No hassle endorsement

Airlines for America has firmly put its support behind the House of Representatives in its decision to pass the No-Hassle Flying Act (2012).

The act sets out to simplify and streamline the process of baggage security measures appertaining to international flights arriving in the US from Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean that already have US Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance facilities.

The bill duly went before the White House to seek Presidential endorsement, giving the TSA the right to decide whether supplementary baggage inspection is due on items that have already been screened at the start of their journey. Currently all baggage entering the US is subject to a second screening, regardless of its origin. Gaining approval, this new proposal was made law on December 13.

 

 

Topping up the pot

Once again we can report that airlines are doing rather well when it comes to the topic of ancillary revenue.

Data released by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has revealed that Delta Air Lines had the second-highest operational profit margin among US airlines in the third quarter of 2012; moreover, it also accrued most checked bag-fee revenue, at US$233.1m.

Interestingly, all the major carriers recorded an operating profit during the third quarter of 2012 and analysts point to bag fees, seat allocation charges and meals as prime contributors to the collective bottom line.

Top of the pile was Alaska Airlines, which pocketed more than US$44m from baggage fees. This performance outpaced that of Allegiant and Spirit, airlines that have been much in the news of late because of their controversial extra fees.

Whilst this has been encouraging for the carriers which continue to battle against a volatile fuel market, the story won’t end here. Southwest, for example, has stated that it is to further augment its ancillary fee structure as 2013 unfolds.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, over US$900m was collected in baggage fees by the industry in that third quarter, in addition to just over US$650m accrued from flight change fees. And all this doesn’t include other ancillary revenue which carriers are not obliged to report.

 

 

Fire detection a priority

The National Transportation Safety Board recently announced recommendations aimed at the reduction of harm caused by fires aboard cargo aircraft, a move that has been endorsed by a pilots’ union. The board urged the Federal Aviation Administration to require fire-suppression systems in all cargo compartments of aircraft and to improve fire detection within cargo containers and pallets. The recommendations follow three fire-related accidents worldwide during the last six years. One of these incidents involved a UPS freighter that crashed in the United Arab Emirates in 2010; on another occasion, a UPS aircraft caught fire in Philadelphia, back in 2006. A third example centered on an Asiana Cargo aircraft that was lost in the ocean off South Korea in 2011.

 

In brief

Signature Flight Support has announced that Airside FBO Operations, its second licensed location in Canada, has completed its transition to a full service fixed based operation as Signature Edmonton located at Edmonton International airport.

 

 

Main News December 4 2012

 

Self-service – from Canada

WestJet has introduced self-service baggage tagging for those flying to the US from Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. Having launched the same service in November in Calgary, WestJet becomes the first Canadian airline to introduce this bag tagging on non-stop trans border flights. Self-service baggage tagging allows WestJet flyers to use a mobile, the Web or a kiosk for checking in for their flight. They are then able to print their own baggage tags when they arrive at the airport. Those checking in via a kiosk may print their boarding passes and baggage tags at the same time; and once the tags have been attached, travellers simply drop the baggage off at the appropriate location.

In most Canadian airports, WestJet flyers have had the ability to print their own baggage tags for domestic flights since 2010.

 

Pollution not confined to the ramp

Average air pollution levels from secondhand smoke directly outside designated smoking areas in airports are five times higher than levels in smoke-free airports. This is one finding from a study carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study was conducted around five large US airports, which revealed that air pollution levels inside designated smoking areas were up to 23 times higher than levels in smoke-free airports. In the study, designated smoking areas in airports included restaurants, bars and ventilated smoking rooms.

Overall, five out of the 29 largest airports tolerate smoking in designated areas that are accessible to the public. However, more than 110m passenger boardings (around 15% of all US air travel) occurred at these five airports during 2011.

Although smoking was actually banned on all US flights through a number of federal laws (from 1987 to 2000), as yet there is no federal policy that requires airports to be smoke-free.

Secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer in non-smoking adults and it is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma attacks. Even a mild exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger a heart attack.

Whether the findings will persuade the authorities to look anew at smoker provision remains to be seen.

 

Apps now becoming commonplace

The just-published 2012 ACI-NA (North America) Concessions benchmarking survey makes for interesting reading. Within its compass there is detail on the rise of the app, that useful item that allows travellers to quickly log on to all sorts of sites for updates and information. According to the survey, some 33% (that is, 32 out of 98 responding airports) now have a mobile application ready. It is also worth recording that of those airports that have a mobile application, over 70% promote concession offerings using these mobile platforms. In terms of how the app was developed, the most common route was that of a joint venture involving the airport and a third party: this accounted for 50% of responses. Close behind was the third party approach, with 44%.

 

Chaos in store at US Airways?

US Airways cabin crew have been threatening sudden strikes unless the airline management looks at agreeing new contracts for flights attendants.
Staff have the backing of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and have held protests around the US in the light of the airline’s failure to agree on contracts for its cabin crew. The association says that flight attendants continue to work under separate contracts, in separate operations, some seven years after the merger of US Airways with America West. It further suggests that US Airways’ proposed takeover of American ought to be put on hold until US Airways has completed its merger with America West, and agreed a single contract for all attendants.

 

 

On time statistics take a knock

Internal problems at American Airlines contributed to a slight fall in on-time departure statistics during the month of September. For the purposes of recording, to be on time flights have to arrive no more than 14 minutes behind schedule.

According to the Transportation Department, some 83.3% of all flights were on time although this was slightly down from the figure of 83.9% recorded during September 2011.

The best on-time performance statistic was recorded by Hawaiian Airlines, which totaled 96%. Runner-up was AirTran Airways, scoring 91%, whilst Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines rounded off the front runners with nearly 90% each.

There were no plaudits for American Airlines, which only managed to post on time figures of 58%. American blamed its poor performance on a work slowdown by pilots, who have been unhappy that the airline has used the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process to trim their pay and benefits package.

Concurrently, American Airlines also had the highest cancellation rate (3.1%), which represented a total of 1,304 flights. All the other major airlines submitting figures posted statistics below 1%. In all, American accounted for a third of all canceled flights during the month.

On the other side of the coin, passengers reported a slightly lower rate of lost or mishandled baggage: in this context, wayward bags were a bigger problem on regional airlines. Conversely, the chance of being bumped from one flight to another grew over the summer period: this was up by 38% from July through September, compared with the same period last year.

 

Main News November 6 2012

 

Bags of money for the big carriers

Reports suggest that major US airlines had a good second quarter in 2012. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the largest air carriers reported a 6% profit margin in this period, up from 5.3% from the same quarter in 2011. Once again, it was baggage fees that swelled the coffers. Overall, the industry set a record in the first half of this year, which saw in excess of US$1.7bn levied in such fees. Top of the tree was Delta Air Lines, which earned in over US$420m in the first six months of the year. United Continental was not too far behind.

In the final analysis, Delta’s revenues stood at US$429m, with United posting a total of US$351m. In third place was American Airlines, despite Chapter 11, with US$288m. US Airways took the fourth position on revenues of US$260m.

If these figures seem disproportionate, it is as well to point out that the fifth in the list, with a mere US$80m accruing from baggage fees, was Spirit Airlines. Whilst it has some way to go to start worrying the likes of US Airways, its latest initiatives (if that is the right word) will see it levy US$100 for a bag being checked in at the gate. That represents more than a doubling of the current fee of US$45. By doing this, Spirit is hoping that the new fee will persuade passengers to pay in advance instead of waiting until the day of travel. Within the carrier’s low cost, low service business model, current fees make up about 40% of its revenues.

 

 

Airport investment continues

Kansas City Aviation Department is moving forward with plans to replace the existing triple terminal design at Kansas City International airport with a newUS$1.2bn multi-storey building. According to a US$4m case study carried out by the agency, construction on the existing site of Terminal A will not involve major highway reconstruction and would be completed in a shorter time compared to construction on undeveloped land. The study also revealed that a replacement terminal would be preferable because of its proximity to the main runway, the fuel farm, the cargo facility and the de-icer area. The project will be funded through federal grants, fees received from airline passengers and carriers and remaining from a bond sale.

Separately, Port Columbus International airport is considering undertaking a three-year, US$80m terminal modernization program to increase its passenger handling capacity.

Expected to commence in November 2012, work on the 835,000 square foot multi-faceted terminal modernization program will include enhancement of the ticket lobby, baggage claim and concourses A, B and C, along with mechanical, technological and security advances.

Columbus Regional Airport Authority President and CEO, Elaine Roberts, said that some US$627m had been invested in airport enhancements, which included roadway, runway and baggage handling upgrades.

 

 

Ten years – a suitable time limit?

There was recently an unusual case at Charlotte Douglas International airport, where an employee was apprehended at work after it was discovered there had been a warrant out for his arrest. What was interesting in this instance was that the warrant for his arrest dated back to something that had occurred over a decade ago.

In 2000, the man was accused of stealing from his employer in Concord. That same year he began working at the airport and was with Delta at the time of his arrest. The accused stated that he thought that the case had been dismissed. In consequence, the question of background checks has come under the microscope. A representative from the airport confirmed that in addition to the checks performed by Delta Global Services, the airport also would have followed TSA standards. Inter alia, these standards outline what would disqualify an employee from having unescorted access into secure areas and a number of potential crimes are itemized. The standards also say that potential employees cannot be convicted of any of such crimes within the last ten years. That said, there appears to have been no correlation between those standards and being wanted by the police.

The case against this individual was actually dismissed because of its age and the fact that there was a lack of evidence.

 

Putting the personal touch back into flying

Whilst many bemoan the hard-nosed attitude that has come to typify the aviation sector, a few airlines, including US carriers, have been looking at ways and means whereby they can differentiate their product. Currently faced with competition from price comparison websites, they are trying to win back customers through a personalized service offering.

To that end, IATA has been promoting an experiment that involves customized ticket pricing to include such factors as baggage fees and seat assignments. However, travel agents are concerned that such a “personalized price product” will entail difficult comparisons – and might lead to concerns over customer privacy.

Under the terms of this new comparison plan, airlines could ask potential customers for personal information, which might include membership of frequent-flier programs, travel history or even credit card usage. Armed with this information, airlines could then tailor a ticket price to each passenger, one that would embrace, for example, meal choices, extra legroom requirements and seat preferences. Then, an intermediary would collect the prices offered by various airlines and furnish these to the customer.

Currently, airlines say that they are unable to offer regular customers a lower price or eliminate a bag fee on comparison sites, simply because those potential customers are anonymous.

IATA’s Tony Tyler sees this as a valuable opportunity for a revolution in airline retailing, and says that this plan would allow airlines to customize their offering, even through travel agents. The industry association has now agreed to move forward with what it terms a new distribution capability. This experiment is scheduled to begin early in 2013 and could be rolled out before 2016.

Currently, around 40% of tickets are sold through airline websites and it costs the industry’s carriers significant sums annually to market their wares through these Internet outlets.

 

 

Pinnacle decision finally made

On November 6, Pinnacle Airlines flight attendants, who were represented by the Association of Flight Attendants, ratified a six-year agreement that will see salary levels maintained, attendants in receipt of affordable healthcare provision and guaranteed job security for over 1,500 staff in all. The agreement includes US$6.4m in concessions demanded by the management through the Chapter 11 restructuring process.

The agreement was reached with the assistance of the National Mediation Board.

Main News October 22 2012

 

Southwest invests in Denver

Southwest Airlines has opened the carrier’s latest Pilot and Flight Attendant crew bases at Denver International. The new crew base, which represents the airline’s ninth, will become home to nearly 400 pilots and 400 flight attendants, with a potential to grow if necessary. These lounges will be located on the third level of concourse C at the airport and will effectively serve as offices on the ground for Southwest’s pilots and flight attendants. Flight crew personnel stationed in Denver may use these offices before and after trips to receive briefings, access required reading material, learn about changes in policies or schedules and catch up on Southwest news.

Southwest currently operates eight other Pilot and Flight Attendants bases nationwide, which are located in Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Oakland, Orlando and Las Vegas. In addition to the crew bases, Southwest has also established a line maintenance operation at Denver: Southwest will staff this with six maintenance employees, who will perform routine maintenance as needed for flights flying to and from Denver.

 

Security screening not up to the mark?

According to an internal report, screeners at Newark’s Liberty International airport are correctly executing passenger pat-downs only 16% of the time. Moreover, the report has revealed that screeners identify and take appropriate action on prohibited items in only a quarter of all cases.

Despite these negative findings, the report also states that in numerous categories, including the removal of prohibited items found during physical searches and the exhibition of good listening skills, screeners have been performing their duties correctly for 100% of the time on their shifts.

(The report was compiled by a number of undercover teams of Transportation Security Administration employees from other airports, who observed the Newark Liberty screeners at work over a period of several months).

 

 

New Chair for Toronto

The Board of Directors of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority has announced the appointment of Vijay Jeet Kanwar as Chair of the Board of Directors with effect from January 1, 2013. Vijay Kanwar has been a member of the Board of Directors since May 2006. He was appointed by the Province of Ontario and has served on the Planning and Development Committee, Audit Committee and the Human Resources and Compensation Committee. He was also involved with the Board search committee for the GTAA’s new CEO.

 

 

ABM in Air Serv acquisition

ABM, a provider of integrated facility solutions, has announced a definitive agreement to acquire Air Serv Corporation for approximately US$158m in cash, subject to certain closing adjustments. Air Serv, when combined with ABM’s janitorial, facility solutions, security and parking airport businesses, will significantly expand ABM’s capabilities in servicing the end-to-end needs of the airlines and airport authorities, and ought to create an entity with in excess of US$650m in annual revenues.

Founded in 2002, Air Serv has around 12,000 employees worldwide and is a leading provider of integrated facility management services for the world’s leading airlines and freight companies, at airports throughout the US and the UK. This rapidly growing company provides a range of janitorial, passenger, security services and transportation services to over 50 airports, including 27 of the top 40 markets in the US and 12 of the top 30 airports worldwide; further, it is considered the global leader in terms of wheelchair, baggage handling and skycap services. Overall, Air Serv generates annual revenues in the region of US$300m.

 

 

Ultimate hedge goes into operation

In September, Delta Air Lines’ US refinery began producing jet fuel.

The refinery, which was shut in September 2011 by its previous owner, has recently been undergoing maintenance and upgrades. Delta bought the refinery last spring from Phillips 66 to control fuel costs. The Pennsylvania state government agreed to provide US$30m in assistance for job creation and infrastructural improvements whilst the purchase price (US$150m) was contributed by Monroe Energy, the owner of Delta Air Lines. Delta has said that it expects to invest about US$100m in the infrastructure to modify it for an increase in jet fuel production, and that it is aiming initially at an output of some 52,000 barrels a day.

Delta thus becomes the first US airline to buy an oil refinery in an attempt to better manage the vagaries of the petroleum market. The airline expects the refinery to reduce its annual fuel bill (which reached US$12bn last year) by around US$300m.

Delta Air Lines’ President, Ed Bastian, said in a conference that Delta could save even more, since the carrier was looking to bring in Bakken crude from North Dakota to supply the refinery at prices that could be equivalent to West Texas Intermediate or lower.

The refinery currently processes more expensive crude from the North Sea and Africa.

 

Main News October 10 2012

 

Got to keep the customers satisfied?

The number of complaints made against airline services increased by 92% in the US in July, totaling 2,466. This was also up by 49% on the number recorded in June. Airlines reported 18 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights during July and one tarmac delay of more than four hours on international flights. In all, 16 of these occurred on July 13 at Chicago O’Hare airport, which suffered storms.
According to a new law that took effect in 2011, all US and foreign airlines operating at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats must report long tarmac delays occurring at US airports.
Whilst on-time performance among US carriers in July fell to 76% (from 77.8% in 2011), the good news was that the number of cancellations also declined, to 1.4% of scheduled domestic flights. The mishandled baggage rate also fell, to 3.52 reports per 1,000 passengers.

 

 

Cuts continue amid growing unrest

American Airlines has contacted more than 11,000 workers to inform them that they could lose their jobs as part of its ongoing bankruptcy process. Further, it has been cutting flights by 1-2% in September and October. The US carrier, which filed for Chapter 11 protection last year, expects fewer than 4,400 people will actually be laid off in November and December.

The redundancy notices were issued under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires employees to be informed 60 days before major lay-offs or plant closures occur. About 800 employees have agreed to leave American Airlines voluntarily, a move that should further reduce the overall number of expected lay-offs.

Flight schedule cuts for September and October were partly down to an increase in pilot illness days, along with greater maintenance reports by flight crews, which had led to flight cancellations and delays.

American has also begun implementing cost-cutting procedures for its union pilots after gaining bankruptcy court approval to abandon its collective bargaining agreement with the Allied Pilots Association.

 

 

Smuggling ring uncovered at JFK

A total of 18 employees at New York’s JFK airport have been arrested for allegedly stealing 100,000 miniature bottles of alcohol. The bottles were taken from LSG Sky Chefs, the caterer which stocks American Airlines with food and beverages. The arrests come in the wake of a nine-month investigation.

Amongst the accused are 15 truck drivers for Sky Chefs, along with three airport security guards. The drivers have been charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property worth more than US$750,000, which included perfume and cigarettes.

It appears that the Sky Chefs drivers were responsible for removing the unsold bottles from each flight. Whilst these bottles should have been taken to a storage facility within the airport, the truck drivers were placing a percentage of the bottles into bags and taking them to their own vehicles in the staff car park parks. Guards were bribed at security checkpoints to facilitate the operation.

 

 

Looking after the workforce – the United way

Mid-September saw United Airlines celebrate the perfect attendance of 11 employees at an event at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and award each employee a new Ford vehicle. The employees, representing six work groups and based in seven cities around the globe, each achieved perfect attendance during at least one of three six-month periods beginning July 1, 2010. Thousands of employees were eligible, and United randomly selected 11 winners in a drawing in May. Each winner chose between a Ford Explorer, a Ford Escape, a Ford Mustang and a Ford Focus. The company is to pay all expenses associated with the vehicle, including sales tax, title and license.

“Our people and their commitment to service and reliability are at the core of our effort to build the world’s leading airline,” said Donna Towle, Vice President of Employee Relations at United. “Perfect attendance facilitates a work environment of dependability and trust, and enables us to provide our customers with consistent, reliable service.” Eligible employees may participate in an annual drawing to win a new vehicle, with the company awarding 11 new cars each year. Employees are also eligible for a rolling six-month perfect attendance award of US$50 in cash, a US$50 donation to United’s employee relief fund on the employee’s behalf or 5,000 frequent flyer miles.

 

 

More jobs coming at Air Canada

Air Canada has said that it is looking to add over 1,100 new employees to its workforce during the next 12 months. This is partly in preparation for the launch of its new budget carrier in 2013. Whilst a number of these staff will be working with the new airline, the rest will be taken on at Air Canada’s mainline carrier. The total will include around 400 flight attendants and about 500 permanent, part-time and full-time airport customer service agents and baggage handlers. Aside from this, the carrier will be adding staff to its call center operations in both Montreal and Toronto.

 

 

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